NASSAU, Bahamas, Nov 29 – Tiger Woods measures success by just being able to compete at the Hero World Challenge, where the former world number one returns from the longest layoff of his career on Thursday.
A back injury has sidelined the 14-time major champion since August of last year and at this event a year ago he wondered if he would ever play again.
“I’m playing again after 15 months of not competing,” Woods said. “It was that period of a month of two I just couldn’t get out of bed. I needed help. It was a tough time.
“It’s just two different worlds. Things have improved so much I’m able to be here. It hasn’t been easy. It has been a lot of hard work.
“Hopefully I can get out there and shoot something. I’m going to have to get after it and see what happens.”
The 18-player invitational event hosted by Woods’ charity foundation will be played on a 7,267-yard, par-72 layout designed by Ernie Els at the Albany resort in the Bahamas featuring natural brush and sand. Bubba Watson is the defending champion.
“I’m going to try to win this thing,” Woods, 40, said. “Bubba went low, shot 25 under. That’s going to be a tall order. I haven’t played in a while.
“But hey, I’m going to give it my best, I’m going to be focused, I’m going to do what I can do and put the ball in the correct spots, give myself looks and try to bury these putts and post scores, and get myself in that mix come Sunday afternoon.”
Woods has not played competitively since August of 2015 at the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, North Carolina. He underwent back surgery a few weeks later and missed the entire 2015-16 season recovering.
“I would like to play a full schedule. That would be great. Will I be able to? That I don’t know,” Woods said. “I don’t know what my back is going to be doing.”
Woods, four shy of the all-time major record set by Jack Nicklaus, has not won a major since the 2008 US Open and has fallen to 898th in the world rankings, even joking his goal will be a top 1,000 ranking and admitting he is nervous about this week.
“Yeah, there are nerves. I care about what I’m doing,” Woods said. “It’s about controling it and how fast I can get in the flow. I need to find the flow of the round. Hopefully I can do that quickly.”
– Hybrid style –
Woods is mixing old and new clubs and trying to fashion competitive form with a hybrid style, realizing his days of outdriving all rivals are done.
“Hopefully I can put together some amalgamation of things and have some sort of a run,” Woods said. “I’m going to have to find different ways.”
Woods had planned a return in October at the US PGA season opener but withdrew saying he was not quite ready to return, delaying his comeback to this week.
“I could do it, but why try to pull it off when I could wait and be ready?” Woods said. “I think I made the right decision.”
Woods tees off in the sixth of nine pairings at noon in Thursday’s opening round alongside fellow American Patrick Reed, ending the longest layoff of his career after 466 days.
Woods, whose 79 US PGA titles is three short of Sam Snead’s all-time record, has not won since the 2013 World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio.
“Winning is an evolution thing,” Woods said, noting that after the injuries, “I’m still at the beginning stages of that process.”
A month before his 41st birthday, Woods said he blocks out fan expectations to focus on his goal of winning again.
“It’s noise,” Woods said. “My job is to go out there and win golf tournaments.”
Woods said he hopes to someday be a Ryder Cup captain but that won’t be soon.
“I would be honored to be selected as a Ryder Cup captain,” Woods said. “But it’s not going to be for a while.”